Friday, 28 April 2017

The Histories by Herodotus

"Herodotus of Halicarnassus here presents his research so that human events do not fade with time."

Herodotus was born in Halicarnassus in 484 B.C., a city that is now Bodrum, Turkey.  Very little is known about the man or his life, but it is surmised that he was exiled by the tyrant, Lygdamis, and moved to the island of Samos. Later in life, he appears to have migrated to Thurii, Italy, but it is uncertain where he met his death.

Seen as the first historical writing showing cause and effect, The Histories was written by Herodotus in approximately 440 B.C.  The initial words of Herodotus set up the purpose of his narrative:

"Herodotus of Halicarnassus her presents his research so that human events do not fade with time.  May the great and wonderful deeds ---- some brought forth by the Hellenes, others by the barbarians --- not go unsung, as well as the causes that led them to make war on each other."

Known as the first "father of history", treating it as an investigation or "inquiry," Herodotus begins his account from the rise of the Persian Empire, following the leaders Cyrus the Great, Cambyses, his son, Darius the Great and Xerxes I which comprise books one to six of his narrative.  Books seven to nine account for the Greco-Persian wars in exacting detail, from Xerxes' initial aggression to the victory of the Hellenes.

Through Herodotus' lively accounts the reader becomes acquainted with the Lydians and Croesus, the Medes, the Persians, Egyptian customs and geography, Persian conquests, the tyrants vs. the democracy of Athens, the Ionian Revolt, the Battle of Marathon, the alliance of Athens and Sparta, the battle of Thermopylae, the battle at Artemesium, the victory at Salamis, the victory at Plataea and Mycale, and the end of the war, with Xerxes in an embarrassing retreat.

Clio, Euterpe and Thalia (1652-55)
Eustache Le Sueur
source Wikipedia


Reviewing book by book gave me an invaluable anchoring in these ancient times and a more concentrated view of these bygone adversaries and battles.  The links to the books, which are charmingly named after the Greek Muses, are as follows:

Book I - Clio ~ muse of history
Book II - Euterpe ~ muse of music, song & lyric poetry
Book III - Thalia ~ muse of comedy
Book IV - Melpomene ~ muse of tragedy
Book V - Terpsichore ~ muse of dance
Book VI - Erato ~ muse of love poetry
Book VII - Polymnia ~ muse of sacred hymns and poetry
Book VIII - Urania ~ muse of astronomy
Book IX - Calliope ~ muse of epic poetry

Apollo and the Nine Muses (1856)
Gustave Moreau
source Wikiart

Told with a lively and personal tone, Herodotus' stories range from the practical to the bizarre, causing scholars to disbelieve some of his tales, yet modern findings have tended to support his accounts.  For example, Herodotus recounted a story of fox-size ants that would spread gold while digging their mounds.  Sounds completely ridiculous, doesn't it?  Except for the fact that in 1984, a French explorer discovered the existence of a fox-sized marmot in the Himalayas that did indeed spread gold dust and of which there was a tradition of it that extended back into antiquity.  Not only that, but the Persian word for "mountain ant" is apparently close to their word for "marmot" so it may have been a translation error instead of a factual one.  Score one for Herodotus! Personally, as I read The Histories I could tangibly feel Herodotus' strong desire to recount his findings in an entirely truthful way, and if some of his veracity is in doubt, it would only be through honest error and not by intentional fanciful tales or deliberate deceit.

I'm so happy to have finally read The Histories and hope to revisit them again one day. Now on to Thucydides', The History of Peloponnesian War in which Thucydides follows up Herodotus' account of the Greco-Persian wars with his own account of the Peloponnesian War which occurred approximately 20 years later.  More wars but more fascinating Greeks.  What could be better?



Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson

"One grey morning the first snow began to fall in the Valley of the Moomins."

While this book is numbered three in the Moomin series, it's the first Moomin book I read when I was around nine years old, and the Moomin family has lived in my imagination ever since.  Portrayed as cuddly white hippo-like creatures, they are actually a type of troll, but sweet trolls with a lazy relaxed demeanour in spite of their penchant for finding themselves embroiled in adventures.  With the creature, Sniff, adopted into their family, the traveller Snufkin, the Snork Maiden and her brother the Snork, the Hemulen and the gruff philosopher Muskrat, Jansson created a world that has been rivalled by few others.

In Finn Family Moomintroll, when the Moomin family arise after a long winter's hibernation, they look forward to the awakening of spring.  But Moomintroll, Sniff and Snufkin find a lone black tophat on the peak of a hill, which appears to be the catalyst to a number of strange happenings: fluffy white clouds that can be ridden like horses chase each other, a jungle grows in Moominhouse and there is a terrifying transformation of the Muskrat's dentures.  Meanwhile, the Hemulen is sad that his stamp collection is complete and at the behest of the Snork, takes up botany.  A sailing trip to an island brings a rather startling encounter with the Hattifatteners, whose ghostly bodies and deaf and dumb demeanor is rather disturbing as they live only to journey.  Thingumy and Bob arrive with their unique spoonerisms and unknowingly bring the cold and chilling atmosphere of the Groke to Moominvalley, as she searches for her missing treasure.  Nothing appears quite as it seems and the Moomins, with their natural aplomb and pragmatism, manage to extricate themselves from exploits and dangers, while at the same time welcoming the adventures as they come, enjoying the undulations of life in their Moomin-world.



It's rare that I recommend a book without reserve, but honestly, if you die without reading this book your life in this world will have been a little less rich.  But I warn you that once you visit the Moomins and their friends, you might never want to leave their vibrant and delightfully unpredictable world where you never really know what is going to happen next.  However, one can always be assured that if it gets too intense, Moominmamma will pat you on the head, sit you down and give some tea and cookies to soothe your nerves.  In this Moomin-world, life is always an adventure and one must be prepared!

This is my second book read for Amanda at Simpler Pastimes Children's Classic Literature Event.  Now if only I can get my review up for the first one!



This book also counts for my Deal Me In Challenge:

Week 10 - Deal Me In Challenge - Five of Hearts









Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Herodotus' The Histories ~ Book IX



Book IX (Calliope)


"When Alexandros returned and conveyed to Mardonios the response of the Athenians, Mardonios set out from Thessaly and swiftly led his army toward Athens."

This is the last book in The Histories, and my goodness, I'm glad!  I've loved this read, but these posts are taking longer and longer to compile.  I'm not quite sure why.  Is Herodotus' storytelling getting less compact?  Is there just more action happening?  Or is my brain beginning an Herodotus-overload?

Public Domain

Upon receiving word from Alexandros, Mardonios begins his march.  The Thessalians gladly allow him to pass through their land but the Thebans try to dissuade his advance, counselling him to bribe the Hellene leaders rather than engage a force that he cannot defeat.  Overcome with a raging desire to subdue Athens, Mardonios stubbornly refuses to listen.  He moves forward but finds Attica devoid of Athenians because they are all still at Salamis.  Sending a messenger to Salamis, Mardonios offers them goodwill and land for their willing subjugation.  When an Hellene council member, Lykidas, supports the offer, he is stoned to death by his indignant kinsmen, and their wives, too, stone the wife and children of Lykidas.  The puzzle of the Athenians still being in Salamis becomes clear when we learn that they had been waiting for the Lacedaemonian army to come to their aid, but the Lacedaemonians are celebrating festivals and building their wall, delaying their departure.  In spite of the Athenians sending a terse message to their compatriots to come to their assistance, the Spartans delay for another ten days and Herodotus is puzzled by their conduct.  Are they no longer worried about Persian aggression because their wall is nearly complete? Who knows?  Finally Chileos declares that if they do not help the Athenians, they will be in great danger and a Spartan army of 5,000 is launched, led by Pausanias.  And so Mardonios' plan failed, as he was hoping the Athenians would accept his offer, but with the Spartans on the move, he demolishes what is left of Athens and burns it, for it is not a good place for battle, being hostile to calvary with only one small route for retreat.  Instead he heads to Thebes.  Upon hearing that the Spartan army are in Megara, he turns his troops that way, hoping to demolish them.  But receiving word that they have united with the Hellenes, he withdraws to Boeotia, beginning to build a fortification there.  A story is told of a banquet in Thebes and a Persian who reveals his belief that few of them will remain alive after this campaign and begins to weep.  They cannot reveal their grief because they must follow orders.  "The most painful anguish that mortals suffer is to understand a great deal but to have no power at all."


Plain of Plataea
William Miller
source Wikimedia Commons


The Spartans and other Peloponnesians set out from the isthmus and arrive at Eleusis where they are joined by the Athenians who have crossed from Salamis.  Taking position in the foothills of Mount Cithaeron, they refuse to come down to the plain and Mardonios sends his forces, led by Masistios (called by the Hellenes, Makistios) to engage them.  The Hellenes are able to fend off the attack and Masistios is thrown from his horse and killed.  Fighting ensues over the corpse but the Hellenes prevail and emboldened by their victory, move from Erythrai down to Plataea for a better position and better access to water.  An argument develops between the Tegeans and Athenians as to who should lead the left wing: the Athenians win because of their graceful argument that they should be the leaders, however they will fight to their utmost wherever they are placed.  Now Herodotus describes the deployment of the troops, the Hellenes having 110,000 men, the Persians (barbarians) 300,000.  More and more Hellenes join their brothers each day and not much happens as each side is hesitant to begin the conflict because of the oracles they had received at the time of their sacrifices, if either side should initiate battle.  Finally, Mardonios becomes impatient and, ignoring the advice of Artabazos and the oracles, prepares his army for battle.  Late that night, Alexandros of Macedon rides to the Athenians and tells them of the Persian plans, asking for liberation of Macedon if they succeed in victory. The Hellenes line up their armies with the Persians and after some maneuvering, Mardonios insults the Spartans calling them cowardly and when no response is given, he spoils the water source for the whole Greek army.  The Hellenes plan to move their army to an island off Plataea, but after a day of fighting, most of the army goes to Plataea to the sanctuary of Hera.  A Spartan commander refuses to budge though, and Pausanias must stay behind to convince him. Finally, Pausanias takes the Spartan army off through the hills while the Athenians turn to march towards the plain.  The stubborn Spartan commander, when he sees the army moving away, relinquishes his plan and follows.

When Mardonios sees the deserted camp of the Hellenes, he disparages the Spartan bravery, calling them cowards.  Quickly he marches off after who he thinks are fleeing Athenians, but is really the moving Spartan army.  So eager is he to stop their retreat that his army flies off without any organization.  Pausanias quickly identifies the pursuit and sends a message to the Athenians to come to their aid, but they are delayed by Greek allies of the Persian king and they are unable to reach the Spartans.  At first, the battle seems to swing in favour of the Persians, but soon the sacrifices prove favourable, and lacking the tactical skill, the Persians army begins to fail.  Mardonios is killed along with 1000 of his special contingent, the Persians flee and with Artabazos now in control, he takes his forces towards the Hellespont.  When other Hellenes hear of the rout, they charge after the barbarians in disorder but many are killed and the rest disperse.  The Spartans fight the Persians at their walled camp but as soon as the Athenians arrive, they are overcome and slaughtered.  Out of a force of 300,000, a mere 3,000 survive.  Herodotus lists the heroes on each side.  A concubine woman of a Persian arrives and clasps the knees of Pausanias as a suppliant; he promises protection to her.  The Mantineians arrive and are so upset that they missed the battle they return to their homeland and banish their military leader; so too, the Eleans.

Battle of Plataea (1854)
John Russell
source Wikimedia Commons


In Plataea, a man named Lampon of Aegina advises Pausanias to win great renown by imitating the Persians' treatment of Leonidas, by cutting off Mardonios' head and suspending it from a stake.  Pausanias' response, while polite and diplomatic, echoes of scorn and distaste:

"My friend from Aegina, I commend and appreciate that you mean well and are trying to look out for my future interests, but this idea of yours falls short of good judgment.  After you have raised me up on high, together with exalting my homeland and my achievement, you cast me down to nothing by encouraging me to abuse a corpse, claiming that if I did so, I would have a better reputation.  But this is a deed more appropriate to barbarians than to Hellenes, though we resent them for it all the same.  In any case, because of this, I could hardly please the Aeginetans or anyone else who approves of such deeds as this.  It is quite enough for me to appease the Spartans by committing no sacrilege and by speaking with respect for what is lawful and sacred.  As for Leonidas, whom you urge me to avenge, I tell you that he and the others who met their ends at Thermopylae have already achieved great vengeance by the countless souls of those who lie here dead.  As for you, do not ever again approach me with such a suggestion or try to advise me, and be thankful to leave here without suffering harm."

The spoils are gathered and one-tenth are given to the god at Delphi.  Pausanias is awed by Xerxes' tent which was left to Mardonios.  The corpse of Mardonios disappeared and was presumed buried by an unknown person and Artontes, his son, gave rewards for the treatment.  The Hellenes now march against the Thebans who allied with the Persians, asking for them to hand over the conspirators.  The Thebans refuse and battle ensues.  Finally the leaders are given over, but instead of a trial, Pausanias sends them to Corinth to be executed.

The Serpent Column commemorating
the Greek victory
moved from Delphi to Constantinople
source Wikipedia


Fleeing Plataea, Artabazos attempts to conceal the truth of the defeat of Mardonios from the Thessalians, in fear for his life.  He eventually reaches Asia.  Herodotus begins the story of the battle of Mycale in Ionia:  Samian envoys approach the Greeks to encourage them to attack the Persians to commence an Ionian revolt.  The Greek fleet sets sail, but the Persians retreat, beaching their ships to meet with their land forces leaving the Hellenes to land and prepare for battle.  Miracluously, even  though the battle of Mycale and the battle of Plataea took place on the same day, the former in the afternnoon and the latter in the morning, news of the victory at Plataea was able to reach the men at Mycale and inspire them.  The battle is fierce and the Hellenes put the Persians to flight. The Hellenes counter the plan of the Spartans to evacuate the Ionians to Hellas and the islanders are left as allies of the Hellenes.  The Greek fleet then sails to the Hellespont.

While Xerxes is stationed at Sardis, he becomes infatuated with his brother, Masistes' wife.  Unable to find a way to possess her, he marries her daughter to his son and then becomes enamoured of the daughter.  When he gives the daughter, Artaynte, a robe woven for him by his wife, the game is up and his wife mutilates the mother.  In anger, Masistes leaves to raise a revolt against Xerxes in Baktria, but Xerxes' forces pursue and kill him.

When the Greek forces find the bridges already broken at the Hellespont, the Spartans return home but the Athenians stay to make trouble for the Chersonese.  When the people in the region who were allies of the Persians hear the Athenians are about, they flee to Sestos and the siege of it by the Athenians is arduous until they finally win victory. The Athenians return home with the spoils.

The history ends with a telling of Cyrus who reprimanded Persians who wished to move to another country for the riches.  He said:
"because soft places tend to produce soft men, for the same land cannot yield both wonderful crops and men who are noble and courageous in war."
❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊

Wow!  I can't believe that I actually finished!  While this book took some concentration to get all the factions and states straight, I'll always be indebted to Herodotus for giving me a much, much better understanding of the Persian Wars.  Now on to Thucydides who, I've read, starts where Herodotus left off.  Already it's a much drier read but nevertheless, fascinating.



Book VIII (Urania)                                                                         


Monday, 17 April 2017

Doodles in the Dictionary by Aldous Huxley

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec
source Wikimedia Commons

Ah, my first essay by Aldous Huxley and I didn't know what style to expect.  He first begins by lamenting the insufferable boredom experienced by having to learn Greek and Latin in school.  Even the mention of these subjects he still finds tedious and can only find one benefit of having been forced through hours of searching for words in his Lexicon:
"I hate to think of all that wasted time.  And yet, in view of the fact that most human beings are destined to pass most of their lives at jobs in which it is impossible for them to take the slightest interest, this old-fashioned training with the dictionary may have been extremely salutary.  At least it taught one to know and expect the worst of life.  Whereas the pupil in a progressive school, where everything is made to seem entertaining and significant, lives in a fool's paradise." 
When his bookseller friend requested his presence to view an item that he was extremely thrilled to purchase, Huxley was dismayed to find that it was a Latin dictionary. However, when he found it wasn't just any Latin dictionary, but the one owned by the famous painter, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, his interest was piqued.

source Wikipedia

Toulouse-Lautrec created these "doodles in the dictionary" when he was sixteen years old, a mere two years after two accidents which would change his life forever.  First, he broke one leg, and then the other, and neither leg grew again, therefore upon adulthood, he had the legs of a fourteen year old and the body of a man.  Having to live as a "dwarfish monster", Lautrec immersed himself in his drawing and painting.

Aristide Bruant on His Bicycle (1892)
Henri Toulouse-Lautrec
source Wikiart

Huxley muses that up to the age of ten, the muse of genius is within every child, but with instruction that muse disintegrates until only one in four thousand people have any talent for art.  He calls this fact an "unsolved riddle" and hopes one day to learn the answer, whereupon education will be able to be transformed into a "social and individual reconstruction".  Hmmm .......  who would decide what needed to be reconstructed and why?  Who would be doing the reconstructing and under what premise?  It's all very vague and rather disturbing.

Artilleryman Saddling His Horse (1879)
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
source Wikiart

In any case, early on it was evident that Toulouse-Lautrec had rare talent for drawing and he was also proficient in Latin, earning prizes for translation and composition.  While his drawings at sixteen showed a maturity and flair that was unsurpassed for his age, his first master Bonnat was lukewarm with his praise.  In a letter to his Uncle Charles, Toulouse-Lautrec communicated his teacher's comments:  "Your painting isn't bad; it's clever, but still it isn't bad.  But your drawing is simply atrocious."  Judging from a comment from another student, Huxley believes Toulouse-Lautrec had a propensity to exaggerate his subjects, to "prettify" them in a way that was perhaps not pleasing.  Yet Huxley believes that facts are perhaps not so immutable as we perceive them, and that everyone can view each reality differently.  And facts can also cover a variety of disciplines: for example, he says, the H-bomb can at once be involved in physics, chemistry, physiology, medicine, genetics, psychology, politics, economics, ethics and even be an aesthetic fact, as the cloud it makes is quite beautiful.  Toulouse-Lautrec simply chose to communicate in his art the aspects that preoccupied him and "found no incompatibility between truth to nature and distortion." His exaggeration perhaps brought life to his art, which would align with Hsieh Ho, the fourth dynasty Chinese artist who stated that the First Principle of Chinese Painting ".... is that, through a vitalizing spirit, a painting should possess the movement of life," and the sinologist, Osvald Siren agreed, "that the First Principle refers to something beyond the material form, call it character, soul, or expression. It depends on the operation of the spirit, or the myserious breath of life, by which the figures may become as though they were moving or breathing."

Fishing Boat (1880)
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
source Wikiart

Huxley brings the subject of the horse into his essay, lamenting its passing into the history of transport and surmising that it was heading towards extinction.  It embodied the expression of life from its splendid grace, from the thoroughbred down to the old hack; in modern times we are only left with man who is a graceless uninteresting creature.  The advent of the automobile, and in fact all technology, detracts from life and therefore from our enjoyment of it.  Lautrec's father had advocated for the health of the outdoors but sadly, Lautrec was not destined for such a life because of his accident and became, instead, fascinated by the race-track, Montmartre known for its public dancing and cabarets, alcohol and prostitutes.

"The drunks and tarts, the lecherous gentlemen in top hats, the sensation-hunting ladies in feather boas, the stable boys, the lesbians, the bearded surgeons performing operations with a horrifying disregard of the first principles of asepsis ....... these became the subject matter of most of Lautrec's pictures, the environment in which he liked to live.  He portrayed them simply as curiosities, passing no moral judgment, but simply rendering the intrinsic oddity of what he saw around him."

His interest in the theatre grew, of which sketches can be seen in the dictionary of jesters, actors and actresses.  He did not portray women in a sexual way nor with any discrimination, only executing them as he would any other subject, "from memory and with appropriate distortions, rendered their life-movement, now graceful, now grotesque, and the underlying rhythm of the mysterious spirit that manifests itself within that movement."

And so concludes an essay that I thought would be an educational treatise and ended up being about the creation of art, and secondary the sad demise of a creative talent. Huxley did not reveal that Lautrec died from the effects of alcoholism and syphilis at the age of 36 years old.

Next up is classic children's book, The Finn Family Moomintroll.  I absolutely love this book; it is tied for my all-time favourite children's classic.  I can't wait to read it again and share some unique Moomintroll adventures!

Week 9 - Deal Me In Challenge - Two of Spades








Saturday, 15 April 2017

Herodotus' The Histories ~ Book VIII



Book VIII (Urania)


"These are the Hellenes who were assigned to the fleet."

Herodotus catalogues the Hellene ships that fought at Artemision.  Seeing the size of the enemy fleets, the Hellenes prepare to desert, but Euboeans bribe Themistokles to remain, who in turn pays off others and the battle begins.  The Persians decide to surround the Hellene ships at Artemision by covertly hiding behind islands and approaching from another direction.  However, a man named Skyllias of Skione, a lauded diver, decides to desert the Persians and, after jumping from a ship, swims nine miles under water to reach the Hellenes.  Herodotus counters this story with his own opinion that Skyllias came by boat .  Nevertheless, he reveals the plans of the Persian fleet and the ships that were sunk in the storm.  The Hellenes decide to sail out to meet the barbarians and become encircled by the superior force of Xerxes, who thinks them mad.  Employing their breakthrough maneuver, the Hellene ships are able to take thirty of Xerxes' ships and capture a prominent personage, the king of the Salaminians.  As night falls, the two sides withdraws, with some desertions of ships over to the Greek side, however the Hellenes decide to retreat and Themistokles attempts to woo the Ionian and Carian forces who are fighting with the Persians, thinking that bringing them to the side of Hellenes will turn the tide of the fighting.  He puts a plan into motion to burn Euboean flocks to hide their departure, but a messenger arrives from Thermopylae, relating the fate of the Hellenes there.  Deciding it imperative to leave immediately, messages are left for the Ionians and Carians urging their desertion.  The Persians investigate the Hellenes' flight, then Xerxes, up to his old tricks, conceals the Persians losses at Thermopylae by burying most of his dead and leaving only 1,000 on the battlefield (in actuality there were 20,000 killed) whereas the Hellene losses show 4,000 men.

The Bank of Thessaly (1926)
Giorgio de Chirico
source Wikiart

The Thessalians attempted to threaten the Phocians into given them money in exchange for protection from the invading forces, but because of previous resentments between the two, the Phocians refused and that is why the Thessalians gladly guide the barbarians as they advance towards Hellas.  The people flee, but the barbarians ensure that they burn and raze every place to the ground.  While they continue their rape and plunder, another Persian force is heading towards Delphi to capture its wealth for King Xerxes.  When they hear of the advance, all the Delphians leave the city except sixty men and a prophet.  And just as the barbarians approach the temple, thunderbolts shoot out of the heavens and two peaks of Parnassus crack off, crushing the forces under their stones.  Terrified, the barbarians take flight and the Delphian men pursue them, killing a great number.

When the Greek fleet leave Artemision, they decide to anchor at Salamis after learning the Peloponnesians are not joining them but instead are building a wall to protect Peloponnese and they also want to evacuate their women and children from Athens to obey an oracle.  When the Greek fleet at Troizen learns that the others are at Salamis, they set out to join them, making a much bigger fleet than at Artemision and all are commanded by the Spartan, Eurybiades.  Here follows a catalogue of ships from the different states and islands.  As the generals hold council, Xerxes has been trompsing through Boeotia, Attica and finally reaches Athens.  There are a few Athenians left to defend it, but the Persians wrap their arrows in hemp and light them on fire to burn down the barricade.  When held at an impasse, the Persians manage to climb the unscalable cliff to the Acropolis and finally capture it, murdering the suppliants, plundering the sanctuary and setting fire to the whole.  When the Hellenes learn of the ruin of Athens, they are deeply disturbed and Mnesiphilos advises Themistokles not to let the fleet leave Salamis for fear that they will panic and disperse to their various states to protect themselves.  Gathering Eurybiades, Themistokles convenes the generals and convinces them to stay and battle at Salamis.

Themistocles
source Wikimedia Commons


As Xerxes was successful in his march, others joined him so that his loses were hardly visible.  After his victory at Athens, he consults the men on board his ships to see what they advise.  All recommend a battle at sea, yet only Artemisia, the woman commander, advises against it.  While impressed by her response, Xerxes nevertheless follows the majority and gives the order to set sail for Salamis.  Their movement causes terror among the Hellenes, however the Peloponnesians were still completing the wall they had started after learning of Leonidas' defeat at Thermopylae, and the work continues day and night as a race against time.

As the Hellenes begin to argue again as to the best course of action to take, Themistokles sends his servant, Sikkinos, to Xerxes' camp to convince the Persians to engage the Greek fleet at Salamis before they flee.  He is victorious in his own right and the Persian fleet leaves for Salamis where the Hellene generals are still arguing, unaware that they are being surrounded by the enemy.  Meanwhile, Aristeides returns from exile, and Herodotus believes that in spite of his circumstances, that he was "the best and most just of all the Athenians."  Although an enemy of Themistokles, he puts away his enmity and tells him of the encircling of the Persian fleet, whereupon Themistokles asks him to reveal the news to his contemporaries.  Doing as he is bid, Aristeides reveals their position, yet he is not believed by the commanders until a Tenian trireme arrives and confirms his story.  Thus, the battle begins.

Xerxes I
source Wikimedia Commons

Most of the Ionians fight well for the Persians, in spite of Themistokles' previous attempt to get them to desert.  However, many of Xerxes' ships are destroyed versus very few Hellene ships because the Hellenes remained in battle formation and fought together whereas the Persian force was disorganized and, more to the point, many of the men did not know how to swim.  Whenever a Hellene ship was wrecked, the men simply swam to shore.  Artemisia wins acclaim for herself in two very suspect manners: 1) she rams a friendly ship, whether by accident or design Herodotus does not know, and the Attic/Hellene ship pursuing her either thinks she is on their side, or has, deserted to their side, and ceases pursuing her, and;  2) as King Xerxes watches from his station at the base of mount Aigaleos, one of his men commends Artemisia for sinking an "enemy" ship and Xerxes, proud of her feats, remarks, "My men have become women, and my women, men!"

With the great confusion of his fighters, the Phoenicians come to Xerxes and attempt to blame the Ionians for treason, yet as Xerxes observes an Ionian act of bravery, he becomes impatient with the Phoenicians and orders their heads to be cut off so they will learn not to "slander their betters".  In the battle, Persian ships attempt to flee but are pursued by the Aeginetans.  The Aeginetans are the premier naval fighters at Salamis, followed by the Athenians.  There is a story of the Corinthians fleeing the battle, only to be encountered by a ship sent by some god, the crew of which tell them of a Hellene victory.  Finally convinced, they sail back but the battle is over, however this is an Athenian story and the Corinthians tell a story of their courage of which the rest of Hellas is in accord.

Battle of Salamis (1868)
Wilhelm Kaulbach
source Wikimedia Commons

Aristeides gathers hoplite soldiers and proceeds to kill all Persians on the island of Psyttaleia.  Much wreckage from ships washes ashore, fulfilling many oracles and Xerxes eventually grasps the magnitude of the disaster before him and, worried that the Hellenes will break apart the Hellespont and trap him, he makes plans to return home.  To cover his intentions, he begins construction of a causeway to Salamis and also prepares for another battle, fooling everyone but Mardonios who is familiar with the king's mind.  Xerxes sends a messenger home to announce the Persian catastrophe and the Persians appear to be more worried about the safety of their king than his success.  Mardonios, reluctant to give up the battle, counsels that Xerxes return home with the majority of forces, but if he leaves him 300,000 troops, he will deliver Hellas to him, enslaved.  Xerxes summons Artemisia to consult her and she advises to follow Mardonios' plan as, if it succeeds, Xerxes will take much of the credit, and if it fails, Mardonios is no great loss.  Such is his terror, Xerxes adopts her counsel, trusts her to take his sons to Ephesus and gives Mardonios his men.  When the Greeks learn of the flight of the Persian fleet the next morning, they set off in pursuit, stopping on the island of Andros.  Themistokles advises that they should sail directly to the Hellespont and destroy the bridges, but Eurybiades goes against his advice, saying that if the Persians are trapped, they will take Hellas little by little.  The other commanders agree to leave them a flight path, and Themistokles then advises the Athenians not to pursue the barbarians.  His advice is intended to gain favour with the Persians if he ever needs their assistance and he sends his servant, Sikinnos, to relate to them that he has convinced the Athenians to let the Persians leave unmolested and with the Hellespont intact.  The manipulator!  He then proceeds to besiege Andros for refusing to pay him, and extorts money from other islands without the other commander's knowledge.  Xerxes withdraws and Mardonios with him, deciding it is not the time of year to wage war and is content to wait.  The Persian troops suffer starvation and plague and whoever is left is detained at the Hellespont, as the bridge of ships was damaged in a storm.  Another story goes that Xerxes went by sea to Asia and the boat was overcome by a storm.  The helmsman made men jump into the sea to lighten the load and when they reached land safely, Xerxes gifted him with a crown of gold for saving his life, then decapitated him for the destruction of the lives of the men.  Herodotus does not believe this story; if it was true, of course, the rowers would have been thrown overboard, not the notable Persians!

Xerxes at the Hellespont
Adrien Guignet
source Wikimedia Commons

Unable to take Andros, the Hellenes return to Salamis to make offering for their victory.  They then sail to the isthmus to present a prize to the two men who showed the most valour in the war.  Of course, every man places the first vote for himself, but the majority of the second votes go to Themistokles, however because of jealousy, they will not award him a prize.  Themistokles travels to Lacedaemon where they graciously presented him with an olive branch, a fine chariot and a escort of 300 Spartans called "the Knights", the only time anyone has received such honours.

As the Persian king retreats, some areas revolt, particularly Poteidaia.  After Artabazos finishes his escort of Xerxes, he attempts to subdue the Poteidaians but the people hold out against his siege and discover their general's treasonous activities.  When the barbarians try to cross the sea at low tide, a flood tide comes and drowns many of them.  Meanwhile, the Persians wait to hear of the success of Mardonios, confident of his victory.

Mardonios decides to consult oracles and sends Mys to find all that he can, and at the Theban oracle, it gives a prophecy in the barbarian tongue instead of Greek to the surprise of all.  After reading the oracles, Mardonios sends Alexandros of Macedon (not Alexander the Great), to Athens to try to convince the Athenians to desert to the side of the Persians; Herodotus is unsure if this was because of the prophecy of the oracles or not.  He then recounts how the Temenids settled Macedon where Silenos was captured in the garden of Midas (see Metamorphoses - Book XI)  And thus, Alexandros arrives  in Athens and attempts to convince the Athenians to support the Persians, particularly emphasizing the strength of Xerxes and Mardonios' troops, whereupon the Lacedaemonians, distressed at the Athenians' possible betrayal, entreat the Athenians to hold firm and not allow the enslavement of the Hellenes.  In a rather elegant speech, the Athenians unequivocally refuse to reach an agreement with Xerxes and chastize the Lacedaemonians for believing that they would ally themselves with such a ruler who has destroyed their city and gods.  The urge the Lacedaemonians to prepare for war.

View of the Acropolis (1849)
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres
source Wikiart



Book VII (Polymnia)                                                                           Book IX (Calliope)

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe


(Warning:  There are spoilers galore in this review, but the story itself is quite obvious, not to mention the title, so I spoiled away!)

A few decades ago, I read this short story as an elementary school student.  From what I can remember from a fuzzy recollection is that the tale creeped me completely out and the image of a beating heart under the floorboards thumped around in my consciousness for weeks after.  However, for some reason I remembered the heart being in a box, which is not in the story.  Why, I wonder?  Was it some illustration I'd seen that had left that impression or simply my mind supplying details?

The Tell Tale Heart (1919)
Harry Clarke
source Wikipedia
In any case, The Tell Tale Heart was first published in the literary journal, The Pioneer, in 1843.  It is told in a first person narrative, with the narrator describing a helpless old man whose rheumy blue eye drives him to contemplate the murder of this vulnerable creature.  Although he claims to love the man and have nothing personal against him, the filmy eye is his main focus.  Each night at midnight, he attempts to shine a light on the eye, but each night it does not open and therefore, he claims, he cannot complete his homicidal deed.  Every day, he is kinder to the old man, but on the eighth night, the man calls out before the narrator is able to shine the light, however with patience our murder awaits our terrified victim and when he is able light up the eye, a sense of rage grows within him and he snuffs out the man's life.  Dismembering him, he hides the body parts beneath the floorboards.  Soon after, a knocking is heard and the narrator opens the door to the police who have heard reports of a shriek and have come to investigate.  Elated with his perceived clever deed, the narrator invites them in and they converse right in the room where the murder occurred, the evildoer supposing the police will never discover his crime.  However ....... ka-thump, ka-thump, ka-thump ...... a noise begins ..... a noise that comes from directly under the floorboards.  The tell tale heart .......  The pounding echoes the pounding in the murder's head until he is convinced that the police now know all, and bleats out a wild cry:  "Villains!  Dissemble no more!  I admit the deed! ---- tear up the planks!  ---- here, here! --- it is the beating of his hideous heart!"


The Veiled Heart (1932)
Salvador Dali
source Wikiart
Well, well!  And so I reveal the whole story.  Why?  Well, because at first, honestly, it was a huge disappointment.  It's an interesting story, certainly, but a classic?  Bah!  It's simply an implied scary story that is mildly shivery, and then soon forgotten.  What a disappointment! But not trusting my own judgement, I looked around to see what others had made of it.  It seemed like no one could draw any sort of deeper meaning from the tale.  There is talk of the unreliable narrator, who is obviously paranoid and psychotic right from the beginning. There is no explanation of the relationship of the narrator to the old man, or really even why he loves him but hates his eye.  So I let the story sit with me a day or two.  When I returned, I had a vague idea ........... in the beginning the narrator is fixated on the eye of the man; we never are told why but it absorbs all his thoughts until it becomes an obsession.  He murders the old man because he's convinced that he hates it.  Yet in the end, it is the heart of the man that gives the murderer away.  Could it be a commentary on the outside appearance of a person vs. their inner nature, the eye versus the heart?  We see and react to what is seen on the surface, yet is the heart of a person that is their true character, what will eventually "give them away" so to speak.

My conclusion still seems rather elusive and I'm grasping at a possible meaning that is still out of my reach.  Does anyone else have any thoughts on this or any other interpretations that you've discovered?  If so I'd love to hear them!

There is also the theme of the psychosis of the murder, which is rather fascinating.  He continually emphasizes the fact he is NOT crazy, and incessantly accentuates his clever machinations.  And notice in his final words, he calls the police, "villains". Everything is backwards in his twisted mind.

My next Deal Me In Challenge choice will be the essay, Doodles in the Dictionary by Aldous Huxley.

Week 9 - Deal Me In Challenge - Five of Clubs







Saturday, 8 April 2017

The Great Ideas ~ Opinion and Human Freedom


In the last chapter, Adler examined in detail the difference between opinion and knowledge.  Now he takes us on another path in examining various problems linked to opinion, but this time in the realm of action rather than the realm of thought.

Opinion and Human Freedom


Luckman prods Adler to investigate another form of skepticism which holds all matters of fact knowledge but all matters of value only opinion. and he brands it as a sociological skepticism.  Adler concurs and declares that it would be very difficult to graduate from college or university without being "inoculated with it."  It is the skepticism that questions how any man or society's opinions can be better than another's, because the opinions always come from the point of view of that man or society.  This skepticism goes back to the Greeks and with Herodotus' The Histories (which I'm reading at the moment), the Greek sophists argued that everyone was different in how they lived and acted.  Science could only explain natural matters but the regulation of society should not be governed by it.  In fact, this view was prevalent in the sixteenth century and the discovery of cannibals by Montaigne, who is somewhat the spokesperson for European thought, made him conclude that there was no practice so hideous that man might not only adopt it, but think it good.

When Luckman inquires as to how Adler would answer these types of skeptics, Adler responds that the topic is too broad and would lead them away from the discussion, but he will attempt a brief answer.

Fundamental Values Are Universal


First Adler introduces some facts that the sociological skeptics ignore.  While it is accurate that practices vary from society to society or culture to culture, there are also foundational human values that remain constant.  John Locke, an English Enlightenment philosopher and physician, illustrated this point well when he said:

".... there is scarce that principle of morality or rule of virtue which is not somewhere or other slighted or condemned by general fashion of whole societies of men, governed by practical opinions and rules of living quite opposite to others .......  Nevertheless the most general rules of right and wrong, the most general rules of virtue and vice are kept everywhere the same ...."

To explain his point, Adler claims that acts of murder, courage, cowardice are valued or despised in every society, only each society may define each of these acts somewhat differently.  For example, some tribes might call a particular killing a mercy killing while others would label it murder.  Yet Adler acknowledges that we do have knowledge of very general fundamental questions of action and behaviour which involve only the most universal principles, however other than these basic standards, all other questions can only be answered by opinions.

Between Art and Nature (1888)
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes
source Wikiart

Opinion and the Need for Freedom


On all detailed practical matters men can have different opinions and reasonably disagree, however this fact leads to two practical consequences.  The first is human freedom, and the second the need for authority.  At first glance, these two consequences appear to contradict each other.  Adler examines both in an attempt at reconciliation.

Our judgement with regard to human freedom --- in that we decide to adopt a means of behaving or not, to follow a particular course of action or not, etc. --- although it is based on opinion is one source of human freedom, yet not the only one.  There are three levels of explanation for this distinct freedom:
  1. When we act voluntarily and are not manipulated or impelled by others about our judgement of what to do, we act using free will, carrying out our own judgements.
  2. With regard to practical judgements, we use our opinions about right and wrong to carry out our decisions.  In both cases, we are not compelled by anything to make up our own minds.  We are free to decide.  We use practical judgements as to what to do and call it having free will.  But if the Latin was literally translated, "free will" would be "free judgement", librium arbitrium.  In actuality, our action is "double free": from the fact we have free opinions, we have free judgements which spur us to action.
  3. Now let's suppose the opposite, and construct a case that is rather contrary to what we have been discussing:  what if it was possible to know with complete certainty what was right and wrong is every case?  Our actions would still be free but our judgements would not be free.  Adler uses a story where he and a colleague argued about democracy, the colleague advocating for it and Adler not convinced that it was the best form of government.  However, with study, Adler was brought over to his colleague's point of view and wrote a paper supporting it, as a mathematician supports a conclusion.  Was his colleague happy that he was in agreement?  Absolutely not!  He felt the very fact that Adler could demonstrate that democracy was the best form of government, went against the very tenets of it, in that it did not allow men to be free in their own conclusions.  It took away their free choice.  Interestingly, Adler states that he does not agree with his colleague and that his conclusion is actually knowledge and not opinion, yet it does not take away from human freedom at all, as his conclusion remains a general principle.
Freedom in the Aquarium
Sabin Balasa
source Wikipedia


Opinion and the Need for Authority


Adler now examines the second consequence of our practical judgements being matters of opinion.  Men cannot live in society in peace and harmony unless there are common rules to govern their actions to which they all can agree and assent.  Usually there is some authority which binds these rules over all.  Now Adler says that opinion over action is not only a source of our need for authority, it is the source.  To explain, human opinions can differ and men can reasonably disagree about matters of action, but ....... if you are going to live in society and all work towards a common goal, you must resolve your differences and find some way of agreeing.  How can this agreement be attained?  Not by reasoning because then you would have a matter of knowledge, not opinion.  Adler knows of only two answers:

  1. The issue will be decided by superior force exercising compulsion over those of inferior strength.
  2. The issue is resolved by some higher authority which both are willing to accept.

Luckman asks Adler that if force is an alternative to authority, why should authority even be considered?  Adler emphasizes that it is important that people submit to an authority that they are willing to accept rather than be compelled to obey, for only under the former do we remain free.

Luckman is still confused so Adler summarizes what he has already stated.  When I personally read over his viewpoint, I think it is easy to disagree with Adler because his argument sounds so factual.  In reality, because he is addressing opinion, right there we have a muddying of the waters.  If we were examining knowledge, our viewpoints could be much more precise, but because we're dealing with opinion, already we have to compromise on how we view it and therefore what the best means are of dealing with many situations.  Adler is not prescribing the perfect mediums for a society that must function mostly on opinions, he is advising the best way given imperfect circumstances. Seen from this perspective, I can appreciate his argument.

Raising Freedom (1974)
Joanne Shaw
source ArtUK


Adler concludes by saying:
"What we have learned today is that opinion in regard to action is both one source of human freedom and also the source of our need for authority. And I hope what we can learn next time is how the principle of majority rule makes authority quite compatible with freedom in society.  In the course of doing that, we cannot help but face the conflict between the majority and the minority opinions, and with that the problem of controversy about the fundamental social issues of any society at any time."
The next essay is titled Opinion and Majority Rule.



⇐ The Difference Between Knowledge and Opinion    Opinion and Majority Rule ⇒